Of Darwinian Struggles and The De-Selection of Dear Friends

I think it was the comedian George Carlin who said that looking for happiness in possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches to your body.

Have you ever wanted to turn the key and walk away from all your stuff?  Live by a small bag and  card-table and folding chair, with bare or nearly bare walls?

I have been longing to, needing to, planning to downsize.  Progress has been made, for sure, but now I am at my Picket’s Charge, my Battle of Balaclava, my Thermopylae.

I am up against the wall: a wall, walls actually, of books.

There are so many hours and tears, so much money and sweat, in these books. My shelves are stuffed with hopes and dreams and joys and cherished gifts.

I am very low.

Into the outer darkness I have already with cold-blood banished clothing, superannuated gadgets, obsolete electronics, tchotchkes, duplicates, anchors around my neck and ankles, and I feel the better for it.  There are always the impossible choices, of course, such as too-large thing that is all you have left from a grandmother.  Vestments… even vestments, ladies and gentlemen.

Now, however, I am sorting and culling and packing books.  I am getting rid of books.  I love books, except when I hate them.  Odi at amo.

What to do?

No phrase is more deadly to the downsizer than, “This could be useful!”

Which one goes?  ”You, old friend?  You, newcomer, whom I enjoyed and found helpful?”

Via the Laudator I read this great snippet from George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying:

In all book-shops there goes on a savage Darwinian struggle in which the works of living men gravitate to eye-level and the works of dead men go up or down—down to Gehenna or up to the throne, but always away from any position where they will be noticed. Down in the bottom shelves the “classics,” the extinct monsters of the Victorian age, were quietly rotting. [...] Dull-eyed, he gazed at the wall of books. He hated the whole lot of them, old and new, highbrow and lowbrow, snooty and chirpy.

I have a dark fantasy of relieving myself of this glorious useful alluring impedimenta through a massive hecatomb by flames.

Fire sale!  Everything must GO!

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are saying, “Give them away!  Sell them!  Don’t just dumpsterize them!  Don’t, God forbid, burn them!”

Sure.

But… books.  They’re books!

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83 Responses to Of Darwinian Struggles and The De-Selection of Dear Friends

  1. Timbot2000 says:

    Father, you are now reminding me of one of the all-time great parts of Don Quixote! When the priest and Simon Carrasco go through Quixote’s book collection. They spared “Amadis of Gaul” becuase of its high moral quality, but not “Son of Amandis of Gaul” as “the virtue of the father shall not spare the son!” LOLZ

  2. pseudomodo says:

    Farenheit 451 has been realized!

  3. Tina in Ashburn says:

    We may think WE own stuff, but no, stuff owns us. We have to manage it, store it, dust it, build rooms around it, waste too much time worrying about stuff… on and on.

    Books can be very precious. Hopefully you can find a stable library to which you can donate these books, perhaps a book-loving friend, a researcher, a convent or monastery. This would allow you to visit your “friends” where they will be available but you won’t have to take care of them!

    Dioceses and parishes and schools are an option, but I know of too many of these places that chucked excellent and precious works – either to the trash or giveaways. Thus we have lost precious first-sources on controversial subjects and today are at the mercy of slanted projections of what history wasn’t.

    Picking the recipient has its risks.

    Getting rid of stuff is commendable Father. I wish you joy in that freeing feeling!

  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    Coincidentally, I am engaged in this struggle at this very moment. It must be in the air.
    I looked into selling, but they only offer 5 cents per book.
    It actually is more beneficial to donate them and take a tax deduction.
    I’ve found that this works better if I do it in waves.
    First wave: trashy paperbacks, old textbooks of no value, outdated ephemera.
    The second wave is going to be the tough one.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Ten years ago, my son and I had 6,000 books. I passed on about 3,000. Then, almost three years ago, I passed on another 2,000. Thankfully, I knew some philosophy students and home schooling families. We are down to 1,000 and most I have given to him.

    However, think these thoughts–”What will I use in the next five to ten years? What do I need for my career and vocation?” Doing it in stages helped me.

    I have not missed one book I passed on. God bless your efforts and I understand the pain. (That phrase always reminds me of Pres. Clinton-aarrgh).

  6. APX says:

    I just bought an excellent moral theology book from 1952 off eBay. It was rescued from a library in the US. I’ve been ravishing it for the past few days. I can’t imagine how many good “outdated” books go to waste. Sure the canon law references are out of date and what have you, but the theory is still useful to someone such as myself, which is what I bought it for.

    I also can’t help but wonder how much money can be made off of selling old books.

  7. Sorbonnetoga says:

    I once sorted through the library of an old teacher of mine, after his death. I had to separate anything the University library didn’t have, to be retained. My payment for the week’s work was to take anything else that I liked. Happy Days… Of course, then I got married but my wife altered the vows to say that I would endow her with all my worldly books!

  8. Oh, Father. This is the story of my life. I have so many books, and know that they have to go, but am something of a miserable failure at “separating the sheep from the goats”. Yet after decades of procrastination, I have plowed into the pile, determined to pare it down. I have not prevailed, but I continually throw myself again and again into the job. Each time, a few goats are culled. Someday soon I hope to get down to one bookcase full – in other words, just about 3 small boxes full.

    I have always thought that – furniture aside – one should be able to fit all of ones possessions into a small van – not a cargo van either. In fact, 20 years ago, when I moved out of my ex-wife’s house, all of my worldly possessions (save for one bookcase) fit into my late Suzuki Samurai. If I could get there, or even close to it, I would be so relieved.

  9. Patruus says:

    My own experience of parting with books is always invariably one of regret when months or years later I find some need to refer to them.

    My advice therefore can be summarized in but one word – DESIST !

  10. Bryan Boyle says:

    After the hurricane last August in the Philly area (we were on the NW quadrant as it moved up the coast…so, it did strike us pretty badly), while my ham radio, recording studio, and other electronic ephemera was spared due to its location on tabletops (and my antennas, strangely enough, survived…), I still had many packing crates full of college textbooks and other items that somehow followed me through life. Spent a week cleaning out the basement (I got 3″ of water…and was without power so the sump pump sat there, quietly observing) of years worth of memories (a diary that myself and former spouse traded back and forth to put our thoughts in while we were courting…), favored books from long-forgotten college courses, early microcomputer (TRS-80 and Apple) manuals, magazines that had published some of my articles…you get the picture.

    The basement is a lot less crowded, the memories were put out by the curb in plastic bags (water-logged paper is not recyclable in our town…), my ham shack and recording studio was rebuilt, walls cleaned and repainted, and life goes on. I don’t envy your task, but, in the end, the release of the impedimentia is a good thing. Lets you focus on tomorrow…rather than dragging the unnecessary parts of the past (luckily much was saved being in boxes on top…:)).

  11. wmeyer says:

    I have moved too many time, and each time, I have parted with books. At other times, I have done so simply because I felt guilty for keeping volumes I had not used in a long time. Special case: on almost every occasion when I have discarded technical books, I have found the need for them again, often within weeks. This has made it increasingly difficult to prune that collection.

    I still bear the scars, however, from one move when I packed over 45 boxes of books. Call it roughly 2000 volumes. That has changed my view about owning books for life.

  12. TMKent says:

    Imagine doing this on a grand scale.
    I work at a university Library and we are doing this by the dumpster load. Do not kid yourself that everything is electronic or that the internet is safe. This is a crime against posterity and for some time now I have hated my job.
    It’s absolutely demoralizing.

  13. sirlouis says:

    Dear Father Z, I know whereof you speak because I had to dispose of about a third of my books when I recently moved. I think I would have preferred a root canal. I used a variation on American Mother’s method.

    I culled those that I knew I could easily do without and put them in one pile. Then another pile, those about which I could not honestly say that I was sure I would read or refer to them again in the future. A third mountain comprised those so important to me that I would, seriously, have a root canal as the price of keeping them. The fourth pile was the remainder I wasn’t sure of. Then I reviewed the piles and passed books back and forth between them, always keeping in mind how much in toto I had to be rid of.

    Now the result of this, Father Z, was not so much the exact classification of the books as that I got properly sick of doing it and finally did what had to be done in the first place, which was bite the bullet and just be done with it. It’s the fifth stage of mourning.

  14. wanda says:

    Keep at it, Fr. Z.! I am in the same pickle, keeping too much, for too many reasons. I can manage
    to do a bit at a time, but boy do I fight with myself to get after it every time. You can do it!

  15. LouiseA says:

    Hominem unius libri timeo.
    - Thomas Aquinas

  16. Gregorius says:

    I’d take some of those books if you were seriously considering alternatives to throwing them out/donating them to local groups. And if I couldn’t use them, I’d know a few places I could pass them on to.

  17. norancor says:

    Dearest Father Z, I have a large passenger van and I’m not afraid to use it. If your books are in the City and you want to divest yourself of them, I will gladly cruise across 80 and whisk through… ok, crawl through, the Lincoln Tunnel and pick them up when you are ready. Just say the word…

  18. Legisperitus says:

    I fear the day when books exist only in the “cloud” and then a tyrant takes control of the “cloud.” But it does seem that every possession which makes us “independent” makes us dependent in equal measure.

  19. eyeclinic says:

    I see a made-for-tv series…”Gospel Hoarders”…

  20. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Books are monuments to past trials and triumphs. To honor them, our feelings for them, and their role in our personal hisotry, perhaps you can take a group picture of the books you will give away, so you will always have a momento of these books to look at if you feel the need to.

    You can also write down the bibliographic info for each book to be released, in case you feel you really need to get a hold of a copy.

  21. ferreus says:

    There are plenty of redundant books out there. I say burn what can be burned. It cannot go wrong! :’)

  22. traditionalorganist says:

    I wish there was an “emphatic delete” or “Delete with disgust” button on my kindle. Or maybe a “burn it” button? And I would also hope that my efforts to press that button were noted by the author.

  23. fvhale says:

    Long ago when I was an unmarried missionary, I could move anywhere in the world with two duffle bags: one for clothes and personal items, and the other for books.

    Now settling into retirement, and for the past four years (since my last flood experience), my library works like this: I have a set of modest shelves around the room where I live.

    In those shelves I keep my favorite books, in my favorite languages (Latin, Italian, English, Greek, Hebrew…no room for more languages), starting with liturgical books (Latin, Italian, English) and Scripture (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, English), then source materials from saints (Francis, Clare, Anthony of Padua, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Scotus, William of Ockham, Angela of Foligno; in Latin, Italian and English). Then writings by Popes (back to Leo XIII, with a lot from Ratzinger-Benedict), and core theological books (including DS) for dogmatics, morality, sacramental, spirituality, etc., and some “light” reading (Sheen, Sheed) and lives of saints, then more modern and speculative theology (Teilhard, Congar, DeLubac) and philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Kierkegaard, Heidigger).

    And that is it. The shelves are full. The quality is very high. Because the rule is: if I want to add a book, something must go. Space is limited, and quality keeps going up.

    Where do they go? Some to the diocesan library. Some to seminarians. Some to friends. Some to local book stores. And, just sometimes, I feel that the most charitable thing to do with a book is send it to the landfill.

    Having to say, “Goodbye” to a book usually means and evolutionary step in the quality of the finite library that remains behind.

    Be not afraid!

  24. mamajen says:

    I live in a very small house and therefor own very few books. Our family uses the library often, and since I now own an iPad I can fill in the gaps with e-books. For a while I kept physical books around mainly for sentimental reasons, and for what they said about me to others who might visit. I eventually realized that it was worth more to me to have a simple, uncluttered life than to hold onto books that I probably wouldn’t read more than once. I have friends who take great pride in being exasperated about how they will find room for all their books. I want no part of that. We’re a family of avid readers with almost no books in our house.

  25. Darren says:

    This has me thinking… if I could keep only TEN of my books, and somehow get rid of the rest… which ten would I keep? Hmmm….

    1. Bible (but I have 3 translations: RSV-CE, DR & NAB (1970) …does that count as 3 or 1?)
    2. The Lord of the Rings (it is three, but really was only meant to be one by the author, so it is 1)
    3. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; Fr. John Croiset, SJ
    4. The Mystical City of God; Ven. Maria of Agreda of Jesus (it is 3 books in 4 volumes, but one title… so… it is 1, right????)
    5. The Silmarillion
    6. The Cure of Ars; by Abbe Trochu
    7. The Sermons of the Cure of Ars (yeah, I like St. John Vianney)
    8. The Hobbit (How can I let any of the Tolkien big 3 go???)
    9. Divine Mercy in My Soul; by St. Faustina
    10. My entire Calvine & Hobbes Colletion (they are paperback comic strip books, that HAS to count as one!!!!)

    * sigh * I can think of a few others difficult to part with, but alas!!!

  26. fvhale says:

    p.s. I forgot to mention that one shelf is dedicated to Catechism (CCC in English, Latin, Italian, Compendium; also Catechism of Trent), and Vatican II (Latin, English, Italian, etc.)

    p.p.s. One recent book that went to landfill was a copy of Rahner’s one volume “Encyclopedia of Theology” which had been previously owned (and inscribed) by both Sr. Mary Ann Donovan, SC, and Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders, IHM. I could not see passing that one on to somebody else without risking the sin of corrupting a young mind.

  27. Darren says:

    My parish used to have a library in the basement of the church, “Mary’s Reading Room”, which was open on Sundays and occasionally other times… until a good new pastor joined us a few years ago. He reduced its time before eliminting it altogether. There were a number of “questionable” books in there. I also noticed all the books on Medjugorje disappeared from the Adotation Chapel shortly after his arrival. But, they kept creeping back in little by little. Now, that pastor is gone… I wonder what will happen next.

  28. heway says:

    When I was a child, I used to visit a farm in Pennsy. The owner had her guns and blue ribbons displayed on the dining room wall. She was an expert who taught via 4H. The rest of the walls in every room in the house, were covered with bookshelves about 3 ft high. Nothing like crawling under a down comforter with a good book. I was so attracted that I have done this in my own home. My husband worked in a Cahtolic high school library and they dumpstered books such as Merton’s ‘Seven Story Mountain’. He saved it and yesterday my 35 yo son took it home with him.
    Save your favorites and don’t give them to groups who ‘dumpster’. Lots of bookstores in No.California sell them for 50cents – but they don’t destroy them.

  29. Andreas says:

    One might think of books in the same manner as one would of those people with whom we come into contact each day. Whilst we have very few dear friends, we also have many acquaintenances. Those in the former category are those whom we love and wish to keep close to us. Those in the latter may (or may not) be a pleasure to know, experience and the memories of whom are cherished…..yet we need not have them around us all of the time. Keep those fewer dear friends close as they will always provide you with the joys you seek. You might not visit them very often, but each time you do it will prove a rewarding experience.

  30. oblomov says:

    I’ve been getting rid of books for a while now. It’s most difficult. So many old friends, interesting acquaintances, and newish good fellows, and only a few will make the final cut. So I do it, similarly to American Mom, in waves; first cut is pure entertainment, anything that I won’t read again, must go, then the second cut, is non fiction, with the same standard, third, lit fiction…I feel like Sisyphus eternally pushing that boulder up yon hill, but at this point my books own me, and that must be remedied. A friend of mine does this every six months, and she has an amazingly clean living space. Chaste with nothing wasted in it. Don’t know if I’ll get there but it’s a good goal.

  31. AnnAsher says:

    Oh Fr Z, we are kindred spirits! When I took the 100 Things Challenge, I sidestepped books by calling all my books 1 Thing. But you ate correct – less is more. We’ve just downsized clothing again. It’s the again I’ve got to work on. I failed the challenge but I’ve less stuff and continue to cull. The second worst thing to say to myself is ” oh but it’s so cute”. Ugh.

  32. AnnAsher says:

    Oh Fr Z, we are kindred spirits! When I took the 100 Things Challenge, I sidestepped books by calling all my books 1 Thing. But you ate correct – less is more. We’ve just downsized clothing again. It’s the again I’ve got to work on. I failed the challenge but I’ve less stuff and continue to cull. The second worst thing to say to myself is ” oh but it’s so cute”. Ugh.
    Oh and when we traveled the US for 3 years we didn’t miss our stuff!

  33. Charliebird says:

    Give them away! Needy poor priests, seminarians and lay theologians will have them!!

  34. acardnal says:

    So many books, so little time.

    I know the feeling Fr. Z. I have the same problem. I did get rid of many books when I relocated two years ago from Virginia back to Wisconsin. I donated many to a thrift store and many hundreds of Catholic lectures/talks/homilies/ on audio tapes and cd’s to the Christendom College library. Now I have to cull once again. But I would never burn them! Seminaries and Catholic universities or charities will take them. And don’t forget, there in Minnesota you have the notorious Loome Theological Booksellers, purveyor of fine pre-owned books.

  35. mysticalrose says:

    Could you have an online books sale, Fr. Z? Pretty please?!

  36. Catholicity says:

    “When I get my paycheck, I buy books. With whatever is left, I buy food.”

    I’m a tactile person and believe that a room without books is like a body without a soul. I love the smell, the feel, the heft of a good book. My humble suggestion would be to downsize everything else, and seasonally cull your volumes, even giving some real gems to friends (friend!), but substantially leaving the “core” of your library intact. I still have a rain-stained, bug-smacked, tattered edition of Dandridge Malone’s “Small Unit Leadership” that used to ride in my ruck when I was an officer candidate. I could give you dozens more examples but I won’t. Father, you get the point of my suggestion, I’m sure. Some books are visitors. The rest are family.

  37. mike cliffson says:

    “Whosoever gives up…………for my sake……./..”

  38. KevinSymonds says:

    I am in the market, Fr. Z! Can you send me a list?

  39. yatzer says:

    I thought I was the only one with this situation. Plus, I have a spouse who can’t seem to let go of anything at all. If I die first, our kids will have to call in a dumpster.

  40. Lirioroja says:

    Oh, I hear ya Father. I’ve moved 3 times in the last 5 years and that first move was from a large space with lots of storage to an apartment the size of a closet. I had a lot stuff I had to get rid of – not only books but also clothes, papers of all kinds, tchotchkes of varying sentimental value, letters, and cards. I destroyed all the letters and cards. That was *so* hard. I cried as I did it. Same with the tchotchkes of sentimental value. By the time I got to culling the books I was so drained I managed to do with a level of cold-bloodedness I did not think possible. I just finished unpacking from my last move just over a month ago. Yes, you read that right. I was able to be completely unpacked in one month. That was due to all the downsizing I did on each move. All my worldly possessions – furniture, clothes, and books – fit in a van. Three moves really is as good as a fire. And let me say one more thing: there is no price tag you can put on the freedom from things. It is liberating. Not that I’m completely detached from things, but every time I manage to get rid of stuff it feels so good.

  41. The Sicilian Woman says:

    Oh, I, too, am in the middle of cleaning out my rental and am having a tough time giving up items, especially those that family members gave me, even if they’re items for which I have no use.

    As far as your old vestments and/or any religious items you no longer use, I’m sure there’s a new or poor priest or parish that could benefit from them.

  42. APX says:

    @Lirioroja
    Oh, I hear ya Father. I’ve moved 3 times in the last 5 years

    Since 2007 I have moved 16 times (including once halfway across the country, by car and requiring going through the US (Customs was fuuun), and will have to move again soon. This time from an 1100 sq ft basement suit to a single bedroom. Fun!

  43. lucy says:

    Dumpster? Burn? Are you people crazy? I agree that heretical books and trashy books should be done away with! But, there are so many of us out there who home school our children and need good books cheaply. Please consider selling them on ebay or something.

    I agree with a previous comment above about “the cloud.” I read things on my Kindle that I wouldn’t care if they disappeared one day by a tyrannical leader. I keep hard copies of good Catholic literature that we can all need to read.

    Another consideration for the coming hard times. Bury them in a safe place and tell a few trusted folks where they are. In case of emergency, they could be rescued at some point in the future.

  44. Sissy says:

    I just finished packing a 20′ container with most of the contents of our little house. We’ve moved often, but this is the first time I haven’t moved scores of boxes of books. I’ve given away lots to the local library, the school, and neighbors, especially the homeschool moms. I’ve also throw away books for the first time in my life. For the first time, I realize that some books just shouldn’t be read by anyone. So, into the trash they go. The only silly thing I continue to hang onto and move from place to place is a big box of teaching materials (ancient history lectures). Whenever I get ready to toss them, I think “what if I need these?” and back into the container they go for another 1000 miles or so. I find that I actually like moving, because it’s a good chance to clear out and get back to a nice, spartan existence. I feel renewed!

  45. rodin says:

    Oh! How I empathize!

  46. AnAmericanMother says:

    We do not move frequently. My parents lived in the same house from 1956 until 1995. We have moved twice – from our apartment to our first house in 1980, and from our first house to our second house in 1994.
    I am the child of one packrat and one thrower-outer. I take after the packrat. My husband is the child of TWO packrats who make my packrattery look like the Pony League – his dad built a six car garage JUST to hold his stuff (some of it was very nice stuff, but still . . . I have never particularly felt the need for a seven foot tall vintage glass gasoline pump!)
    The upside is that if anybody needs something, we have it. We loan out tools, kitchen equipment, athletic equipment, and of course records and books. Half the neighborhood and just about everybody at my job knows where to come if they need anything from an engine hoist to a French snaffle to a set of bagpipes, or to consult an old Britannica (we have 3 to choose from).
    We’re going to have to do some serious weeding out if we’re actually going to move from this house which is much too large now that the children are grown and gone. Although what I would prefer to do is go ahead and find a small house with a large pole barn and just MOVE stuff before we sell the place . . . . or something like that.
    Just think of us as happy hermit crabs or bowerbirds . . . . :-)

  47. Mariana says:

    Walls of books here, too. Including my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s books. I’ve culled and I’ve culled, but new ones keep appearing!

  48. AnAmericanMother says:

    Mariana,
    I think there’s a possibility that the books may be clandestinely breeding in dark corners, much as wire coathangers do.
    After all, St. Finnian thought so . . . King Diarmait, he thought so too. St. Columba was not amused. :-)

  49. Bea says:

    Ahhhhhh, Books, old friends.
    How does one get rid of old friends?
    I’ve got the same problem, I guess it’s universal.
    I’ve even got books that don’t belong to me. (I and others run the parish bookstore, but the duplicate books are stored here, at my home), And then other books that don’t belong to us, (stored here by our sons). So I see no solution to my book-problem. Should I get another book cabinet/shelf? Should I get another house? LOL.

  50. Mark Scott Abeln says:

    From my experience, selling books online is a drudgery that takes far more time than what I received in compensation. I would do it, however, for something known to be highly desirable.

  51. Kerry says:

    Father do you have any carving tools to be rid of? Are you hanging onto that 1/2″ Clifton rabbet plane?

  52. Susan the Short says:

    Four years ago, I did a radical downsize, gave my 700+ books to a used book dealer in exchange for him hauling them away. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t regret it. I miss them. But then, I was able to cart all my worldly belongings in my car after that.

    There is a great program out of Amherst, Mass called Reader to Reader http://www.readertoreader.org/
    They collect unwanted books, catalog them, match them up with impoverished schools and donate them. They try not to duplicate a library’s inventory. They started quite small, just one man with a mission to keep books out of the landfill, and have grown handsomely.

    They might be able to suggest a recipient in your area who would benefit from your downsizing.

    But really, Father…unless you are facing eviction, don’t ditch your books!

  53. NescioQuid says:

    Father, I understand only too well what you mean by the shackles… I gave away about ten boxes of b0oks last year. Some went to a charity shop, and most others went to my old Catholic student residence and were gratefully received. The last time I used that library I even saw a student reading one of those books and it gave me some pleasure to see! I am now in the process of trying to make the cut to give away a second batch, although this batch is a more painful one… Nevertheless, I think shackles and this gives me fresh impetus.

  54. scarda says:

    Libraries are now pitching books printed prior to 1985 because they have LEAD in the ink. This is official ALA policy, but it is extremist and stupid. Even the EPA says it is extremist, but I have asked librarians and been given this wretched reason.

    Don’t entrust your loved books to philistines. Philistines come in all kinds of disguises, too: the Catholic school I taught at tossed its entire library in order to put in a computer lab. Those poor children are not going to know what to do if they ever fall into a library.

    Do not presume that books are always going to be available or plentiful. Dark Ages II can strike again at any time, and want of a good book is a dreadful longing. I have found that bibliophiles live in home schooling families and in used book stores. Someone who can make a dime off a book may be a wiser choice than a library. These are sad times. The barbarians are inside the gates.

  55. Charivari Rob says:

    I’m another pack rat, Father Z., and come by it honestly.

    My sympathies, admiration, and prayers of support in your effort to take a firm hand regarding possessions.

    About the only practical support I can give is to say I’ll give up the thought I had regarding a couple of rare-ish books on Catholicism that I acquired last year – the “I’m nearly done with them, maybe I should offer them to Father Z. He’d find them interesting and I’m sure he would know someone who would appreciate them.” At least I can spare you that much.

  56. bernadette says:

    I just went through the mother of all downsizings in preparation for a cross country move from 3200 sq. ft. house to a 1300 sq. ft. condo. My dear departed spouse was a hoarder but at least he confined it to his large basement. We both were bibliophiles plus we had an accumulation from forty years of marriage, kids, and stuff passed down from the parents and grandparents. I sold or gave away every stick of furniture, donated and/or tossed at least 1000 books. I saved a few precious books, mostly Carmelite spirituality, all my Malachi Martin books, and some classics.
    I filled up five junk trucks, had an estate sale, took carloads of stuff to the church yardsale and to Habitat’s Re-store. After all this I still have too many possessions.

  57. APX says:

    @scarda
    Those poor children are not going to know what to do if they ever fall into a library.

    So true. The majority of my college papers were written from online scholarly journals on my school’s computer database. I was taking university-level classes in a community college (translation: the library had no good books for writing university level papers), so it’s all I had. Then I moved to a big city to finish my degree my correspondence. I no longer had access to the database of scholarly journals, but I did have access to three university libraries. I hadn’t been in a library to sign out books since 2004, so about 8 years. It was like walking into Bizarro World. I felt lost that I didn’t have the search function and had to actually use the index and skim read the pages for what I was looking for, as there was no Ctrl+F. I’m slowly regaining my enjoyment for books again.

  58. Sword40 says:

    Be at Peace, Father. Take a deep breath. Know that it will be whatever God wants and in His time. By the way, have a cup of Mystic Monk coffee. Its Swell! (so I’m told by certain Bloggers).

  59. ray from mn says:

    This was some of the saddest reading I have done for a long time. I just entered into my eighth decade and it is probable that I won’t see another. I’ve been trying to divest myself of maybe 7-800 books, mostly secular, for maybe 10 years. I suppose I have sold 75 or so but sales are few and far between now. I’m starting to seek places to give them away. I didn’t spent that much money on my collection, but a tremendous amount of love and care and hours went into it.

    I sent a Excel file of my collection to the librarian at a private high school near me and told her she could have what she wanted. She wanted only Animal Farm, for her self. A not at all distinguished edition.

    I’ll keep looking. It would kill me to pulp them.

    If anybody’s interested, mostly book pre-dating the ISBN numbers, some collectable, some on Midwest/Minnesota labor and political history; [Check with the MN Historical Society.] some by Arthur Koestler and Erich Maria Remarque.

    I also have most of the Life magazines from World War II. My Dad was too old to be drafted and he subscribed. But five kids did a lot of damage to those issues but they are wonderful to browse through. A skilled framer could find some great photos and advertisements that could be mounted and framed for sale.

  60. charismatictrad says:

    “I have a dark fantasy of relieving myself of this glorious useful alluring impedimenta through a massive hecatomb by flames.”

    Father, I know this desire all too well. Except, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy burning GOOD books. But I will say: I DEFINITELY enjoy burning bad books. Cf. Acts 19:19 – the book burning at Ephesus :-)

    A word from an experienced book burning pyro: when you burn them, you may want to rip out the pages. Burning the books as a whole doesn’t work so well, and if these are books you have a hard time letting go of, it will only be more painful to watch them smolder rather than ignite.

  61. tioedong says:

    Give them to one of your friends to sell on EBay…I bought a lot of my religion books that way when I lived in the USA…you could even make a profit. Or you could hold a garage sale…

    In the good old days, I’d say send them via MBag to an African or Asian seminary, but alas the US Government stopped that low rate way to send printed matter overseas. But you could still parcel post them…

  62. UncleBlobb says:

    @fatherz Send ‘em all to me! LOL! (Just kidding, Father).

  63. TZ says:

    “Hominem unius libri timeo.”

    Good one, LouiseA!

    Seriously, Father, set up a Web page with your list of titles and sell them by e-mail to readers of your blog. (Won’t be long before they’re gone, and to good homes, too.) Buyers can pay by PayPal or some other device. (If you don’t have the time to do this, do somebody a favor and hire him for a percentage as payment.) Got any old (pre-70s) Latin textbooks? I study pedagogy.

  64. Bruce says:

    I love books and especially used books stores. Once a year I get read of about 20% of my books ( I have about 300) by selling them to my favorite used books store. When I was young I always wanted to work in a used books store, then I read Orwell:

    “But the real reason why I should not like to be in the book trade for life is that while I was in it I lost my love of books. A bookseller has to tell lies about books, and that gives him a distaste for them; still worse is the fact that he is constantly dusting them and hauling them to and fro. There was a time when I really did love books — loved the sight and smell and feel of them, I mean, at least if they were fifty or more years old. Nothing pleased me quite so much as to buy a job lot of them for a shilling at a country auction. There is a peculiar flavour about the battered unexpected books you pick up in that kind of collection: minor eighteenth-century poets, out-of-date gazeteers, odd volumes of forgotten novels, bound numbers of ladies’ magazines of the sixties. For casual reading — in your bath, for instance, or late at night when you are too tired to go to bed, or in the odd quarter of an hour before lunch — there is nothing to touch a back number of the Girl’s Own Paper. But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.”

  65. Kathleen10 says:

    Father, when TEOTWAWKI comes, all we’ll have are books. Might keep them, but whittle it down to your best 100? That’s what I did. Now my books are most spiritual reading, art books, some cool Time-Life books, survival books, etc.
    A few years ago I had THE most definite desire to get rid of all these things. Things! They own me, I do not own them. Unfortunately, my family has experienced somewhat of a break in the last year, and now the things I wanted to give to younger family members, seems an inopportune time.
    But every thing that has gone out of my house, I have not missed nor regretted it going one bit. Alot has gone, some remains. Now we’re hitting the nitty gritty, the tough stuff. But I want to keep going. I really dislike things on the walls. What the heck do I do with all these photos?
    It must be a life passage urge. Alot of us seem to get it.
    Now I will go read and enjoy the comments of the community.
    P.S. This survivalist stuff has the potential to pile up. I can see that already. If one is trying to plan for bugging in or what have you, one could fill the house with needed items. I can see a balance has to be reached or my house will be full of bins of wheat.

  66. Kathleen10 says:

    The only book I would ever throw out (and have) are trashy books such as that Dan Brown book, the DaVinci Code, or some similar junk. Not that I owned it, but someone donated it to the church Tag Sale. Out it went. I could never throw out any other book, certainly not one of quality. Heck our teachers would have gone out of their MINDS if we wrote in a book, let alone throw one out!
    There is always a place for books, and the Internet “loses” it’s sources of materials consistently. In other words, you can cite something and come back to confirm it and it’s GONE…not so with our hard copy books.
    No, never throw them out unless they are bad for anybody’s soul. There are groups who have book sales once a year in many areas, we have one here, and as I said, Salvation Army or Goodwill will always accept books, not magazines. That way, everybody wins, you get rid of your items, they make a small profit, and somebody reads a good book! Winners all!
    Oh I could never just throw out a book. That just seems so wrong. Throwing out a book is to throw out history, humor, wisdom. It’s not like throwing out most other items. I don’t throw out many items. Donate them! Most churches have tag sales and if you find one about to go off they will usually happily take your items.

  67. virmagnussum says:

    I strongly recommend using Fulfillment by Amazon. You ship all the stuff you don’t want to an amazon warehouse (using Amazon’s discounted UPS rates), they store it there until someone buys it! You set the prices; you can even set them to match / beat the lowest current price of any item. And people can buy your stuff with 2-day shipping. It takes a little work as you have to identify each item, but even that process is cathartic: it takes you out of the easy-come/easy-go cycle since you have to do something about your trash. A good penance for materialism. Anything left over? Put in a box and donate.

  68. spock says:

    Father Z, to quote an earlier president, “I feel your pain.”

    As I am writing this, I am staring at four 6 ft+ bookshelves and I know I have at least enough more books elsewhere in the house to fill another bookshelf. And I’ve already gotten rid of a bunch of books. When I exited bachelor-level engineering school, I went “Dover crazy”. I bought a large number of Dover technical books, math science, engineering etc. They were reprints of very good books typically from the 60-80′s. Also, a few reprints of early works in quantum physics and relativity theory. They were so cheap, I could not resist getting them! Much later in life I diversified, including more catholic books and philosophy books. I still have too much of “The Library of Congress” on my wall. Something must be done…….

  69. digdigby says:

    Father Z-
    I have been a ‘dumpster diving bottom feeding book scout’ for over twenty years. I am the ‘enemy’ I suppose. But I think it is important that you know this: there was a heartbreaking Catholic book-massacre in the seventies and eighties as seminaries and venerable institutions closed or ‘rebooted’ to Catholic Lite and dumped the wisdom of the ages for Feel Good Books. You cannot find some sublime and once-common books now for love or money. I find I have a brisk market in pre-Vatican Two devotional and scholarly books of value (but junk then is still junk) and my buyers are always so appreciative! Have you tried Loome Theological Books up in your neighborhood (more or less – Stillwater, MN)? They might work out a deal. They are very fair, fine people and have been around for years.

  70. K_Suzanne says:

    I know what you mean… I’m getting married in a few weeks, and my future husband and I are both bibliophiles (him more than me). We’re too young to have nearly the bulk of books as one commenter mentioned (6,000???!!!); my best estimate of our combined collection is probably around 1,000. But the apartment we’re moving into is a tiny one-bedroom. Soooo the bedroom and living room will both double as libraries. :) I have had to get rid of a bunch already, but I’m afraid I may have to part with more of them. But it’s too easy to think “I want my children to someday enjoy this just as much as I did!” It is a struggle.

  71. HeatherPA says:

    Oh boy does this post resonate!
    If I can inject a little story here…
    My parents died three years apart, and my mothers death was unexpected. They were only in their early 50′s. Our family home had to be cleaned out for sale. They had not thrown away anything in 30 years of marriage. And they had a large home to accommodate us 7 kids.
    After the melee that ensued, I looked at my husband and said, “We are not doing this to our children.”
    We came home and virtually “cleaned house”. It took days. My husband, whom I dearly love, was a packrat. No longer, after what we had gone through.
    Please think about the things you keep, especially in light of what we went through at my parents home. We had no idea why they had kept 99% of that stuff, and I am sure they had forgotten about it. What a painful exercise that was for us all.

  72. HeatherPA says:

    May I add that we were both bookaholics. We pared out books down to a reasonable bookshelf and have the rest to the library and to our church library, keeping the most important and reminding ourselves we can borrow from the library whenever we want.

  73. Bruce says:

    “There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself … as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! Ye see it in smaller matters. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organiser of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.”

  74. irishgirl says:

    When I had to move from the house I grew up in (lost it due to taxes), I packed up three or four boxes of Catholic books I wasn’t reading anymore, and gave them to the traditional Sisters I know (I made sure there weren’t any post-V II works).
    I’m in a studio apartment now, and I have several plastic containers stacked along the walls that have books in them. Once I get a new bookshelf (and finally unpack everything I brought with me from my old home), then I will do some more ‘book-culling’.
    I might send some to a small private Catholic school that’s in the area.

  75. Anne M. says:

    Fr., I am currently in the process of culling my book collection. I have been slowly getting rid of books for the past two years. I have donated most of them to local thrift shops, given away some Catholic books to friends, and thrown away some that weren’t fit to be read by anyone. Those were holdovers from my past life when I was away from the Church.

    I did all this in preparation for a move from a 3000 sq ft house to an 1100 sq ft house and guess what? After I moved I still had too many books.

    I currently have 4 moderately sized bookshelves and three boxes of books sitting on the floor with nowhere to go. I don’t see how I can possibly discard any more “old friends” but I will eventually grow tired of the boxes and make the tough decisions I know I have to make.

    Each time I go through a stack of books I do find a few more that can go but for me this is a process that cannot be rushed.

  76. Matt R says:

    Father Z, can you sell them on your Amazon? That way you could charge a fair price, and then S&H would be added automatically. I’d love to buy some of them, and I’m sure others would as well.

  77. Andreas says:

    One of the comments noted the possibility of there being a paucity of books during the coming ‘Dark Ages’. There’s a splendid video that addresses this very topic, wherein we view a conversation between two monks discussing the ‘operation’ of a book. It can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ

  78. Kathleen10 says:

    Andreas, that is funny. He had to call the “help desk”. lol.

  79. robtbrown says:

    For some years I have had this policy: Before I acquire a book, I ask myself whether I’ve read all the others that I own. If the answer is in the negative, then I abstain. Knowledge is increased by reading books, not just by owning them.

    And then there is St John of the Cross’ notion of spiritual avarice

  80. acardnal says:

    Andreas, funny video! I emailed the link to my sister, a librarian. I think she knows that space for books on bookshelves has given way to dvd’s, cd’s, e-books and Internet workstations in today’s libraries.

  81. JuliB says:

    How painful. What I’ve done is set up an account at paperbackswap.com . The bad thing is that for each book you ship, you get credit to buy another one. However, my books are slowly going, and I have a wish list of many many books. You pay for postage (media mail), and the ‘seller’ pays for any books shipped to you. People will also sell their credits.

    I ‘recycle’ many of the books I receive. It’s a great way of getting more books without being overwhelmed. There are not that many good Catholic books on that site. It’s helped with my discernment – it takes a lot to get a book deleted out of the system (meaning that I remove it from my account since I want to keep it. The physical act itself is merely a checkbox.).

    I would hope that you list the books somewhere and let us buy them from you. Or, put them up on paperbackswap and we can donate $ via the paypal link for any books we request.

    Keep us posted whatever you do!

  82. BLB Oregon says:

    I would expect that there might be a seminary library that would be willing to keep what they want and sell what they don’t need in order to buy others that they do need. This is especially true of any scholarly books that would be difficult to find (and expensive to buy) otherwise.

    If they’re at a seminary, then perhaps someone won’t feel such a temptation to buy himself a copy?

  83. Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam says:

    Father Z, Please don’t throw them away. The thought of what has already been lost as libraries have been dumping old books by the truckloads for man years, and the thought of what will be lost when much of what is deemed useless for our modern world goes into the ready-and-waiting, digital memory hole may be enough to stem your current enthusiasm. Perhaps you can give at least some of the books to IHM School in New Hampshire. I know the sisters there are looking for good books for the school.
    http://ihm.catholicism.org/